Jon Niese Is Trending Upward

Jun 1, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jonathon Niese (18) throws against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 1, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jonathon Niese (18) throws against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Left-handed starter Jon Niese has pitched five consecutive strong games for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he is starting to trend upward.

When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Jon Niese in December, many fans were upset. Most fans were upset because the Pirates traded hometown hero Neil Walker for him, others were upset because they believed Jon Niese sucks. Regardless, a lot of fans were upset and started screaming that Jon Niese sucks.

But to say Jon Niese sucks simply is not true. From 2012 through 2015 for the New York Mets, Jon Niese pitched like a strong number three starter. Over this four year stretch Niese pitched 697 2/3 innings averaging 6.59 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9, and he had a 50.4 percent ground ball rate. Niese also posted a 3.65 ERA, 3.88 FIP, and a 3.80 xFIP in these 697 2/3 innings pitched.

Jon Niese’s overall numbers on the season are lackluster at best. In 64 innings pitched Niese has a 4.36 ERA, 5.26 FIP, and a 4.25 xFIP. Also, Niese has a career worst home run rate of 1.69 HR/9 and his ground ball rate is just 54 percent. But, these numbers are due largely to Niese starting slowly this season.

Six starts into his Pittsburgh Pirates career, the people who were clamoring in the offseason and throughout Spring Training that Jon Niese sucks were shoving it down everyone else’s throats about how right they were. This is because in 33 1/3 innings pitched in these six starts Niese was allowing 1.89 HR/9, averaging 3.78 BB/9, his ERA was 5.94, his FIP was 5.79, and his xFIP was 4.89. Simply put, Niese was terrible through six starts.

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Then on May 4th, the worst thing that has happened to Jon Niese all season happened. Here at Rum Bunter I called Niese out, said he had been the Pirates worst starting pitcher, and that he had to be better. I even went as far to say his rotation spot might be in danger, but since that day Niese has pitched extremely well. So, you’re welcome everyone. Clearly I provided Jon Niese with the wake-up call he needed.

Beginning with his start on May 9th in Cincinnati Jon Niese has been on quite a roll for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his last five starts Niese has pitched 30 2/3 innings averaging 6.46 K/9, just 2.35 BB/9, and 1.47 HR/9. Furthermore, during this time Niese has an ERA of 2.64 and a xFIP of 3.56.

The most encouraging sign from Niese during this stretch is that his ground ball rate has jumped to 59 percent. When Jon Niese is at his best he is inducing ground balls, and that is exactly what he has been doing his last five starts. Obviously if a pitcher is giving up more ground balls and less fly balls, they are going to get burnt less often. Especially when pitching for a team with as strong an infield defense as the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Also, Niese’s home run rate is starting to normalize. Even though the 1.47 HR/9 he has posted his last five starts is still too high, if you look at just his last four starts it drops to 0.75 HR/9. His lowered home run rate goes hand-in-hand with his increased ground ball rate.

A big difference for Jon Niese is that he has been using his cutter away to right-handed hitters a lot more often. This has helped lead to him throwing right-handed pitchers backdoor cutters that are leading to looking strikes, or weekly hit ground balls. Niese has also seen his swing and miss rate rise, and a low swing and miss rate was probably his single biggest problem through his first six starts.

Next: Marlins 3, Pirates 2: Stars And Stiffs

Due to his last five starts Jon Niese is trending upward for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The left-handed pticher is finally pitching like the number three starter the Pirates were expecting to get when they traded for him in December. These strong outings from Niese have helped to begin to stabilize the Pirate rotation, and it is a rotation that is about to receive a shot in the arm from Jameson Taillon as is.